For this past Back-to-School weekend, some San Diego families chose the demonstration against Planned Parenthood in Little Italy as one of their last summer outings. Elementary- and middle-schoolers were there, not far from street vendors selling crafty wares and the farmers with their over-sized organic vegetables at the Little Italy Mercato. There's this one slideshow picture from the rally that's posted on The San Diego Union-Tribune's website showing a couple of kids holding a sign that reads: “Thanks MOM, For My LIFE.” The young girl, who seems to have her blonde hair in a pigtail, smiles in the direction of a photographer. The boy sitting next to her is wearing a baseball cap and sucking on a lollipop. It's idyllic, Noman Rockwell Americana—save for the surrounding pro-life chanting, a sermon about people going to hell and those colorful poster-board images of bleeding fetuses.
Teacher: “Timmy, what'd you do this summer?
Timmy: “Well, I didn't sleep so good…”
The downtown rally this past Saturday was part of a nationally staged gathering by a coalition of abortion opponents. Rallies took place in 47 states and more than 300 cities. The director of the Citizens for a Pro-Life Society told USA Today this type of a coordinated effort was unprecedented.
Spurring renewed debate over abortion was the release of a set of undercover videos that purport to show Planned Parenthood executives discussing costs related to donated fetal tissue. Some Republican presidential candidates have gone so far as to argue that these highly edited videos are cause for the defunding of Planned Parenthood.
The illogical thought process behind that notion is, here, a moot point. Planned Parenthood, according to a statement from the organization, has administered high-quality care for nearly 100 years. Last year in San Diego County it provided more than 100,000 people with services including birth control, life-saving cancer screenings, STD testing and treatment and other preventive health care services. It also provided comprehensive, medically accurate and age-appropriate sexual health education to more than 15,000 people last year in the county.
But the question that was being asked was whether it is appropriate to bring kids to an abortion-related rally.
“We don't have a statement for those questions,” emailed Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest's digital marketing manager Jessica Logan. After recent press reports about the videos, the organization appears gun shy to talk to media.
There was no reply to a phone call and an email about kids at abortion rallies directed to the pro-life Center for Medical Progress.
Not afraid of this multi-faceted question was Deborah Pontillo, director of San Diego Kids First in Carmel Valley. Pontillo is a pediatric psychologist who graduated from UCLA and works closely with UC San Diego.
“This comes down to the judgment and objectivity of the parents,” she says. “Images of fetuses can be very disturbing—it's not something you'd see in a G-rated movie and it'd be a concerning image to explain to a child under seven years old.”
Pontillo says it's always wiser to wait until children are older. “The later the better,” she says. “These things can be emotionally distressing even for adults. Probably the safest general age would be mid- to late-adolescence [15-years-old and up].”
An abortion rally is a contentious environment. Pontillo makes the comparison that you don't take kids into a divorce court proceeding because of that fact; isn't an abortion rally worse?
She concedes that all children mature at different levels, emotion runs high in this arena and that a desire to impart a parent's belief onto a child comes into play.
“You know, some kids play violent video games and are not affected by it,” Pontillo says. “It's how they interpret what they see. But most media agree that graphic images are not good for children.”
A newborn baby holstered in a carrier at a pro-life rally is probably seen as evidence of the cause. And a toddler likely doesn't know if he's at a carnival or a clambake. The troubling sight is the elementary school kiddo with a Choose Life sign slapped into his hands by a parent.
Mom: “You choose life, right Timmy?”
Timmy: “I'd rather choose kickball.”
And kickball is what he ought to be doing instead.